“Denise Levertov and Water”
Denise Levertov was born was born in 1923 in Ilford, United Kingdom, part Welsh, English, German and Jewish. She played Piano, studied Literature and French and at the same time “[sold] the Daily Worker house-to-house in the working class streets of Ilford Lane”1. Her mother came from a mining village and her father was a professor. She traveled and studied literature all over Europe, analyzing classic French literature as well as German texts. After publishing her first book The Double Image, she moved to the United States and was naturalized citizen of the United-States. Her life in America affected her writing as she abandoned her traditional academic style for a postmodernist one influenced by the Black Mountain Poets, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. Her extensive knowledge and her various influences have enabled her to always analyze things objectively and critically. In her poems, Denise Levertov uses water both as a positive and negative force through people and objects made of and in contact with water. In “The earthwoman and the waterwoman”, she explains how being rich does not necessarily rhyme with happiness. A third person limited narrator describes and compares the prosperous earthwoman’s routine and the waterwoman’s misery in this free verse poem. It resembles very much a fairytale or a fable. The poem starts by presenting the wealthy earthwoman. In the first two verses, she stands by her oven “tending her cakes of good grain.” She has access to superior products such as “good grain” which she can afford in lavish quantities as she is not baking one but many “cakes” as the plural indicates. However, she lives in a “hut”. The reader can therefore identify her as part of the middle class. At the beginning of what seems to be the second stanza, the narrator gives us an indication about her health: “The earthwoman/ has oaktree arms.” The earthwoman is healthy and strong as her arms are made of the extremely solid oak wood. Her children too are in good shape, as “has oaktree arms” and “Her children” are isolated on the same verse. Being wealthy, they are well fed, “full of blood and milk” and are free to enjoy their childhood and play “stamp[ing] through the woods shouting.” Unlike the earthchildren, the waterwoman’s children “are spindle thin”. The speaker narrates, “The waterwoman/ sings gay songs in a sad voice/ with her moonshine children.” Instead of playing like the earthchildren, they prefer singing melancholically with their mother. They are very mature for children, having been forced into adulthood at an early age by poverty. However, her children are simply moonshine, a beverage with important concentrations of alcohol. She has no actual children. In fact, she is so lonely that she considers alcohol as her only family in this poem. Her isolation on the ninth verse is further proof of her solitude. The earthwoman suddenly reappears in the poem when she “has had her fill of the good day” and “curls to sleep in her warm hut/ a dark fruitcake sleep”. At this moment, the situation seems to reverse. There is no mention of the earthchildren or of any husband of the earthwoman. She simply goes to sleep in her cozy hut, alone. Have her children not come home? Here, the earthwoman replaces the waterwoman as the lonely figure. In opposition to this with the word “but”, the waterwoman’s situation seems to progress. She “goes dancing in the misty lit-up town”, pulling her away from her meaningless and solitary existence and into the misty lights coming from the town that guide her safely like a lighthouse. Some negativity remains as mist symbolizing confusion surrounds the town. However, the light comes out victorious and the waterwoman is lead into the last verse “in dragon fly dresses and blue shoes.” The dragonflies follow her so closely that they shape out dresses: the waterwoman has finally found true companions. The plural “dresses” also implies her...
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